Cor Jesu choir ‘dreams big,’ will sing for pope


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When Kathleen Pottinger, director of music at Cor Jesu Academy, asked her choir students to "dream big," she never guessed it would lead to a trip to Rome and a performance for the pope.

In fall 2010, Pottinger gave her students a writing assignment: "Dream big. If time and money were no object, what would you like to see the choir do?" Among the many excellent responses, Pottinger said, was one from Julie Schneier, who recounted a trip she'd taken with her family to Rome the summer before. Julie wrote that she wanted the choir to go to Rome and to sing there.

"I thought that was fabulous," said Pottinger, who started researching the possibility. Sister Kathleen Mary Coonan, ASCJ, the principal, was very receptive to the idea, in part because Rome is the location of the generalate (motherhouse) of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the religious order that sponsors Cor Jesu Academy. The foundress of the order, Mother Clelia Merloni, is buried there.

Plans progressed during the 2010-11 school year for a trip to Rome in summer 2012, including conversations with a visitor from Rome, Sister Mary Grace Giaimo, ASCJ, a former Cor Jesu teacher. Pottinger learned that the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, "the biggest feast for the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus," would be June 15. "There is a huge celebration for the sisters in Rome" including Mass at the Church of Santa Croce and a party at the generalate, she said. The Cor Jesu choir was invited to attend.

Pottinger contacted Peter's Way Tours, a travel group in New York. The result is a nine-day trip, June 9-17, a "pilgrimage," Pottinger said, that will include not only performing for Pope Benedict XVI during the June 13 papal audience (probably "Ave Maria" by Franz Biebl, Pottinger said), but also serving as principal choir during Mass at the altar of the chair at St. Peter's Basilica, singing the liturgy for the feast of the Sacred Heart at Santa Croce, presenting a formal concert at St. Ignatius Church in Rome and singing a liturgy at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

"We'll be singing every day while we're in Italy," Pottinger said. The group will include 60 of the 80 members of the sophomore-through-senior choir, some parent chaperons, Cor Jesus principal Sister Kathleen Mary and president Sister Barbara Thomas. Carol Bauer, coordinator of faith formation at Cor Jesu and the former music director, will be going as well. Bauer said the pilgrimage will be "a spiritually rewarding and unforgettable experience."

"We announced the trip in April 2011, because it's a huge financial commitment — $3,500 a person — and students had to raise the money," Pottinger said. "They're incredibly dedicated and focused. A lot of girls are working side jobs and have done all kinds of things, and a number of wonderful parents worked the concession stand at the Rams' home football games (and other events). And we have a benefit concert coming up."

Senior Katie Schaefer, in her fourth year of choir, said, "I'm really excited. I always wanted to go to Rome as a pilgrimage, and especially Assisi. It's sort of like a dream come true. And singing for the pope — when Mrs. Pottinger told us that, I think we gave a louder cheer than when she told us awe were going to Italy in the first place." Her sister Mary, a sophomore, is also in the choir and will be going as well.

Her fellow senior Jackie Scharenberg called the trip amazing. "My parents are telling all our family, 'She's singing for the pope.' I'm kind of nervous, but I know our choir is amazing and we'll do a good job. Being in the choir has inspired me to be more confident, especially in my singing." She plans to continue choir in college.

Sister Barbara Thomas, ASCJ, the president of Cor Jesu, said, "Here at Cor Jesu we share with the girls our charism and the spirit of our founder, Mother Clelia. For us to be able to travel to Rome and to pray at her tomb and be able to celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart with all our sisters in Rome and be with our students singing there — it makes our charism very real for our students. Our charism is 'God Alone,' and at Cor Jesu our motto is 'Sharing the Love of the Heart of Christ.' I think by their singing and their sharing their gift with all of those audiences, our students will be sharing the love of the heart of Christ in that way." 

Benefit concert

WHAT: Benefit concert for Cor Jesu Academy choir's June 9-17 pilgrimage to Italy, which will include singing for Pope Benedict XVIWHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, April 29

WHERE: Skip Viragh Center at Chaminade College Prepartory School, 425 S. Lindbergh Blvd., Creve Coeur

COST: $8-12

MORE INFO: Silent auction will begin at 2 p.m.

CONTACT: Cor Jesu Academy at (314) 842-1546 or music director Kathleen Pottinger at 

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